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Donald Trump as a Conservative Wingnut

By Samantha Ghuneim

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On June 16, 2015, Donald J. Trump held a rally at the Trump Tower in New York City to

announce his candidacy in the 2016 election. Immediately, the public denounced this

proclamation as a desperate grab for publicity. After a mentally draining election, Trump

defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016 by securing the majority

vote from the electoral college. The fallout from the election left the United States divided and so

many people had questions. How could a campaign infested with scandal and controversy

prosper? In this election, middle America had spoken, and they yearned for new leadership in

their government. Dennis W. Johnson explains, “He broke the mold in what we usually think of

a presidential candidate. There may never be another like him, with his swagger, ego, and

temperament” (Johnson, 2018).

Brian Duigan provides a detailed biography on Donald Trump. Born as Donald John

Trump, he was born on June 14, 1946 in New York, New York (Duigan, 2018). His father, Fred

Trump, was a real estate developer who built hundreds of family homes in Queens and Brooklyn

(Duigan, 2018). His mother, Mary Anne Macleod Trump, was a Scotland native who

immigrated to the United States in 1930 (Duigan, 2018). Trump attended the New York Military

Academy from 1959 until he graduated in 1964. From there, he attended Fordham University

until 1966 before he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance

and Commerce where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in economics in 1968 (Duigan,

2018). Upon graduation, Trump immediately went to work` with his father. He learned

everything he had to know about business from him and ran the business with him. By 1974, he

became the President of the E. Trump & Son and changed the name to the Trump Organization.

From there, he revolutionized the Trump Organization by investing in luxury hotels and

residential properties. He also shifted their focus on other locations such as Manhattan and

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Atlantic City, New Jersey where he got into the casino business (Duigan, 2018). Throughout the

remainder of the 20th century, Trump remained a business mogul. He opened several casinos and

hotels and had a notable presence in the Manhattan social scene. This was until he became a

television personality with his Emmy nominated show, The Apprentice that established him as a

shrew businessman (Duigan, 2018).

Donald Trump had constantly entertained the idea of running for president. Since the 80s

he manifested the idea, but never put action to his words. His political involvement mostly

consisted of sharing his views on the government. He consistently criticized the government for

economical issues, but remained fairly liberal in terms of social issues. During the 2012 election

he maintained a high public profile, pushing the narrative that Obama was not a natural born

citizen, but still did not run for president. That was until 2015 when he held a rally in the New

York City Trump Tower where he pledged to “make America great again” with the promise to

create millions of new jobs and punish American companies that ravaged the economy. Quickly

establishing himself as political outsider, he guided his campaign to victory on an anti-corruption

ticket and was sworn in as the President of the United States on January 20, 2017.

I aim to discuss the rhetorical strategies and tactics utilized by Donald Trump that would

classify him as a conservative wingnut. According to Avlon, a wingnut is “someone on the far

right-wing or far left-wing of the political spectrum. They are the professional partisans and the

unhinged activists, the hardcore haters and the paranoid conspiracy theorists” (Avlon, 2010).

Through his contemporary rhetoric, claims, and effectiveness, I will construct an argument that

proves him to be a divisive force in modern-day American politics.

Dan Schill describes the foundation of conservative thought as being cohered around

three main themes: “…social conservatism, promoting religious and traditional values in

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American culture, and fiscal conservatism…” (Schill, 2017). Donald Trump had always

distanced himself from these pillars, branding himself as a political outsider. This branding

gained him a substantial amount of followers because a lot of people admired his views against

the traditional model of government – a system that has failed many people. This image gave

him the edge to win the 2016 presidential election against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Schill goes

on to explain the impact of his newcomer status, “In terms of branding, Clinton relied on her

experiences as a former First Lady, senator, and secretary of state. Yet this tied her to the

political establishment against which Trump founded his campaign” (Schill, 2017). Trump’s

outsider status gained the attention of right-wing supporters because it gave him the chance to

connect with them. Through his strong opposition towards the government, Trump has been able

to push an “us vs. them” dilemma, polarizing his base from the left.

In an interview with Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes, Trump’s campaign chairman, Stephen

Bannon, explained that Trump’s criticisms of the government paired with his erratic language

actually gave him an advantage in the 2016 election. “It was just to make sure we take away all

the other nonsense from the campaign and just focused on his core message… All we had to do

was set up a system to basically compare and contrast himself with Hillary Clinton. She’s the

standard of a corrupt and incompetent status quo, Trump is the agent of change” (CBS News).

This approach was incredibly effective in setting up an “us vs. them” dilemma between the left

and the right. Because they were basing most of their rhetoric on the comparison of what has

been done during the Obama administration and Trump’s vision, they were able to establish a

connection between Trump and his followers. People on the right found themselves identifying

with Trump’s ideas and stance on the government.

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Bannon then goes on to talk about the impact of Trump’s language. He claims that not

only did his politically incorrect language distract the left from discussing policy, but it resonated

with his followers. A majority of his base view political correctness as a foreign and elitist

concept. In rural communities, there is no need to be politically correct because they do not have

marginalized groups that may be affected by ignorant remarks. Trump’s campaign strategist,

Stephen Bannon, explains his strategy in an interview with Hareetz, an Israeli news platform,

Let them keep shouting ‘racist!’ They’re just digging their own grave… If
Democrats keep playing the race card, the campaign would evolve into something like
this: Trump will say that the Mexicans are taking Americans’ jobs, they they are making
wages fall. He will rage against them with his trademark bluntness. Hillary will respond
with the standard Democratic reflex: The way Trump talks about Mexicans is racist, she
will say. The voter whom Bannon is targeting will look at both candidates and say to
himself: Here’s a candidate who’s talking about my problems; and here’s a candidate
who says that it’s not nice to talk about my problems. (Taub, 2018)

Bannon goes on to explain that his team understood the election was not about immigration or

racism, but the economy. He explains that Trump’s use of erratic language while discussing

policies not only made people pay attention to him, but Clinton’s rebuttal would focus on

denouncing his comments. This would then take time away from Clinton’s platform to highlight

her ideas on policy or anything else. It became exhausting – as if she was suddenly the P.C.

police – to listen to her denounce his remarks each time she had the platform.

Trump established unique connections between his followers in embodiment as well.

Andrew Harnish describes this:

His bodily difference mirrors that of many rural, white working-class Americans…
Throughout the campaign, memes mock mocking Trump’s differences circulated widely.
Given how often the left attacked Trump for his racist rhetoric, its willingness to traffic in
ableism is troubling. It was also destructive to the cause of defeating Trump, because
these same memes – and the mockery of Trump for his famous “Make America Great
Again” trucker hat, a sartorial choice that does not seem out of place in rural communities
– only served to solidify Trump’s appeal to much of his white working-class base.
(Harnish, 2017)

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Many people who voted for Trump simply voted for him because they felt removed from the left.

They did not feel like their identity fit within the party, so they went with the candidate who

seemed to have the most in common with them. This was something that Clinton failed to do

during her campaign, and Trump used it to his advantage. Harnish goes on to say that “The left

was too busy denouncing Trump’s rhetoric and policies and did not focus on offering a set of

policy alternative that are attractive to rural working-class communities” (Harnish, 2017). It

almost seemed that Clinton’s campaign was running on an elitist ticket. With Hollywood

endorsements and her attention focused on democratic states, Clinton was failed to attract huge

demographic. Instead, she drove them away by being out of touch with them.

During the presidential election, Clinton took it a step further by insulting his base

altogether, identifying them as “deplorables.” Although she redacted this statement during the

second presidential debate, the damage had already been done. Trump used this insult to

mobilize his base against the Clinton campaign multiple times. During a rally he said,

Hillary Clinton is going to try and accuse this campaign and all of you – decent
Americans who support this campaign – your campaign, of being racists. Which we are
not. It is the older play in the democratic playbook. When democratic policies fail, they
are left with only this one tired argument: You’re racist, you’re racist, you’re racist. They
keep saying it. It’s a tired disgusting argument. (McCarthy, 2016)

This message to his followers not only ensures that his whole base hears what Clinton called

them, but he highlights that his campaign is their campaign. the campaign of “decent

Americans.” This was to manifest the notion that Clinton was going against blue-collar

Americans. He cleverly frames her comment as an attack on decent hardworking Americans

instead of her intended message to denounce the racism that seeped from his campaign. Through

his outsider status, erratic language, and unorthodox methods throughout the course of his

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presidential campaign, Trump was able to establish an identity within his base in order to create

an “us vs. them” dilemma between the left and the right.

Trump has also used the rhetorical tactic of vilifying his opposition. Joseph Zompetti

explains the use of this tactic, “By mischaracterizing the opposition by using absolute negative

words, the rhetor constructs them as villains” (Zompetti, 2015). By his mischaracterization, he

skillfully framed the media and democratic party as a villain. During the second presidential

debate, Trump mentions rumors of malfeasance surrounding Clinton’s campaign to vilify her and

divert attention from his own corruption. In the second presidential debate, Trump cites Clinton’s

33,000 deleted emails, missing official documents, and eventually ends his rant with, “If I win, I

am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.

Because there have never been many lies, so much deception, there has never been anything like

it” (McCarthy, 2016). He even goes as far as even blaming the country’s political polarization on

her: “We have a divided country because of people like her” (McCarthy, 2016). The message

that this rhetoric sends to his followers is that America is not because of the aggressive and

erratic rhetoric he displays in his campaign. It sends the message that Clinton’s systematical

corruption is ruining the country. Through personal attacks and name-calling, Trump succeeded

in diving the American people throughout the election. Richard Paul gives reasoning for this,

“When an opponent makes reasonable arguments, manipulators ignore those arguments and

instead find a way to personally attack the reasoned. Name-calling (even mud-slinging) often

works” (Paul, 2004). We see Trump put the strategy of name-calling to play during the last

presidential debate when he calls her a nasty woman as she begins to discuss Trump’s tax forms,

which he withheld from making public.

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Trump has also had a substantial amount of conflict with the media. Diane Vitale talks

about the anthropology of Trump’s lies, saying “He has redefined what is real and what is fake –

particularly ‘news’ whilst abusing media critics and giving favor to those uncritical of him”

(Vitale, 2017). Trump has successfully blacklisted liberal media publications from the majority

of his followers, painting them as the enemy of the people. He has said many times before that

the media aims to pass fake news to the public. This is regardless of the fact that he has been

proven to pass false information several times. In a speech given on February 16, 2018, Trump

vilifies the media when he claims that they speak only for the special interests of the broken

system in place, “Much of the media in Washington D.C. – along with New York, Los Angeles,

in particular – speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and those profiting off a

very, very obviously broken system” (Johnson, 2018).

Trump’s rhetoric has also taken form on his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, where

he makes personal attacks against publications that have circulated negative stories about him.

For example, when the @NYTimes published a negative story about Trump, he tweeted,

“Failing @NYTimes will always take a good story about me and make it bad. Every article is

unfair and biased. Very sad!” (Ott, 2016). The vendetta that Trump has against the left-wing

media funnels into this dangerous rhetoric that he displays. By denying these publications of any

credibility, he puts his base into a “bubble” of media consumption. Isaac Stanley-Becker

explains this: “Trump’s carefully curated feed is a reflection of the ideological chasm that’s

dividing the media and splintering society. Tuesday offered vivid evidence of the way in which

right-wing media insulates Trump and his most devoted, from blunt assessments of his

administration” (Stanley-Becker, 2018). Trump’s base is subjected to believe conservative media

sources such as Breitbart and Fox, who tend to broadcast pro-Trump stories. This also divides

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the media because it puts into question the credibility of liberal or conservative agencies. This is

dangerous on both sides because both the left and right-wing media companies tend to skew their

information in favor of their own set agenda.

When asked about his attacks on the media, Trump once admitted to discrediting the

media so that no one will believe any negative stories released about him. During a talk at the

Deadline Club of New York’s annual journalism awards at the Harvard Club in Manhattan,

Lesley Stahl recalled her conversation with Trump where he reveled this: “She said, ‘You know,

this is getting tired. Why are you doing it over and over? It’s boring and it’s time to end that…’

To that, Trump replied, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so

that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you’” (Mangan, 2018). It is

evident that his attacks on the media have been effective because there has been a multitude of

negative stories published about him, but there has not been a significant decrease in his

following.

Another tactic that has been used by Trump is his appeal to fear. Neta Crawford explains

that “… moderate fear and anxiety, or a combination of fear and un-avoidable responsibility,

may induce individuals to gather more information about perceived threats and to work hard to

find answers to difficult dilemmas” (Crawford, 2000). She makes the point that if fear is

involved in a decision or situation, people are inclined to take action. This can be positive or

negative, depending on how one utilizes the fear tactic. Dan Schill explains the uniqueness of

Trump’s appeal to emotion, “Trump elevated a historically marginalized rhetoric genre – that of

the paranoid style – to the political mainstream… the paranoid style appeals to right-wing

Americans who feel dispossessed, emphasized conspiracies in apocalyptic terms, and assumes an

anti-cosmopolitan attitude” (Schill, 2017). Trump plays into the group status threat of many

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White Americans through his rhetoric on immigration and race relations. Brenda Major provides

a glimpse of White America’s view on race relations. She explains that they view race relations

as “zero-sum,” meaning that status gain for minorities directly translates to status loss for Whites

as well as less bias against minorities meaning more bias against Whites (Major, 2016). She then

goes on to talk about how this demographic shift is not likely to be an actual threat to White

Americans, but this rhetoric is pushed in order for them to endorse more conservative politicians.

This idea also leads them to discriminate more against marginalized groups of people.

Trump’s negative rhetoric about immigrants also plays into the rhetoric that was picked

up after the end of the cold war. Hugh Mehan explains the origin of discrimination against

immigrants, “With the soviet enemy vanquished, the State is searching for a new discourse with

a new enemy to discipline our thoughts and actions. The state, in alliance with business and other

elite interests, is encouraging the U.S. citizen to treat the immigrant, poor, unfortunate, as the

enemy” (Mehan, 1997). Trump delivered a speech on immigration during one of his campaign

rallies. During this rally, he warns his base, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending

their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those

problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”

(McGranahan, 2017). This rhetoric is extremely dangerous to Trump’s base because, as

mentioned above, his base consists of primarily rural White Americans. This false information

also feeds into the fear that Whites have about group identity threat. Many of his followers have

probably never met an immigrant personally, so this feeds into prejudices that they may have

about immigrants. Allen Johnston explains how appealing to fear can be effective, “To appeal to

the self-interest of their audience, fear must achieve a sufficient level of personal relevance for

the individual” (Johnston, 2015). Learning that there are criminals illegally immigrating to their

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country combined with their group identity threat, conservatives may be inclined more brutal and

unwelcoming to immigrants.

When analyzing the 2016 election as a whole, it is evident that Trump peppered

falsehoods throughout his campaign. It was found that during both of their campaigns, Clinton

made a total of 13 false claims while Trump made about 104 false claims. (McGranahan, 2017).

Carole McGranahan explains Trump’s purpose of lying, “Trump traffics in all sorts of

manipulation and deception, but his false statements are not bullshit meant to cover what he does

not know. Rather, his lies aim to rewrite or scramble history” (McGranahan, 2017). Trump has

lied to make himself look better and to push several false narratives. An example of one of his

falsehoods is, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote

if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” (Blake, 2016). Not only is this claim

completely false, but it is playing the blame game on others for his loss of the popular vote.

Brooks Jackson provides a brief description of how one may use this, “(it) occurs when a

political pundit points ‘a finger’ at an unpopular group in hopes to divert attention from the

weakness of his own evidence” (Jackson, 2007). This falsehood did two things: 1) It allowed his

followers to believe that he rightfully won the popular vote 2) It implied that democratic voters

were the only people voting illegal. This is polarizing because it pins the other side as cheaters

when it comes to voting when there has been a share of voting fraud on both sides.

Although it is agreed by scientists that climate change is one of the largest threats to

humanity, climate change denial is a prevalent in media. Carlo Fanelli found that “while some 3

percent of climate scientists deny that human activities are directly associated with climate

change, skeptics and denialists tend to make up 34 percent of U.S. media coverage” (Fanelli,

2018). This means that 97% of the science community believe that climate change is caused by

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human activities. It is shocking to see that these fact-ignorers make up 34 percent of media

coverage, considering the unified belief of climate change in the science community. It is

important to acknowledge climate change because it is possible that we have a short amount of

time before we feel the direct effects of it. John S. Dryzek explains the effect that climate deniers

have in his book, the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society: “By attacking climate

science and individual scientists in various venues and fashions, the denial machine seeks to

undermine the case for climate policy making by removing (in the eyes of the public and policy

makers) the scientific basis for such policies – i.e. by challenging the reality and seriousness of

climate change” (Dryzek, 2014).

When asked about climate change, Trump’s opinions were riddled with falsehoods in

order to manifest the climate denial in following. At a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Trump

said, “I want clean air. I want crystal clear water. And we’ve got it. We’ve got the cleanest

country in the planet right now. There’s nobody cleaner than us” (Qui, 2018). This was proven

false by the New York Times’ Linda Qui. She found that the United States is actually ranked 27

out of the 180 countries in the environmental performance review (Qui, 2018). It was reported

that Switzerland was at the top of that list as well. He also goes on to completely disregard

climate change as a myth, citing earlier developments in science that have since been proven

wrong. Trump has also cited previous claims by earlier scientists to further deny climate change,

“If you go back and if you look at articles, they talk about global freezing… They talk about at

some point, the planet is going to freeze to death, then it’s going to die of heat exhaustion”

(Dawsey, 2018). Trump’s rhetoric on climate change is dangerous because environmental debt is

not a debt that can be bailed out.

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Trump is unique. He is unlike any other figure who has been in the oval office. In The

America We Deserve, written by Donald Trump back in 2000, he said, “I am definitely a

different look. I’m not prepackaged. I’m not plastic. I’m not scripted. And I’m not ‘handled.’ I

tell you what I think. It’s quite a departure from the usual office-seeking polls. Maybe the voters

will find it refreshing” (Trump, 2000). 16 years later, he was able to put this to the test and his

words rang true. Through this contemporary rhetoric, Trump has proven himself to be one of the

most polarizing figures in modern-day politics. His rhetoric allowed him to manipulate the public

into believing he was one of them, demonize any opposition in his way, sprinkle his base with

falsehoods that lead them to turn their backs on fact. Donald J. Trump has changed the course of

American history forever.

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